What does your writers group do for you?

I am blessed with two fantastic writer’s groups.

Here is why:
My writer’s group members show up–and when I say show up

  • his car broke down (like it’s not gonna move at all without serious work)-John called Eric and they both made it, leaving the car on the side of the road until later
  • I showed up the day before I gave birth
  • Marie came on her daughter’s birthday
  • Kacie and Ali both drive from “Way the Hell Away” to get there every Sunday
  • Mary was recovering from pneumonia and still showed up at last night’s CWC meeting
  • Fred showed up every single meeting, through blizzards and storms until he died–death was the only thing keeping him away

Everyone has shown up on their birthdays, sick, tired, grouchy, whatever. They always have their critiques done and most times have produced new work for others to read. Employers would give their eye teeth for this kind of loyalty.

And last night here was the kicker:

Locked out of Panera because it was Memorial Day, Ali, Shane, Deb, and I all waited outside–in the rain–for recovering-from-pneumonia Mary so that we could come up with an alternative meeting place. We go to On the Border. We’re halfway through the critiques–Mary’s short stories–and the power goes out.

Do we stop?


There, in the dark, with everyone else and their brother listening, we continue to critique in near-pitch blackness. The only light came from the outside cars passing by. The waiters were wondering what the hell was wrong with us…but they had to stay and clean by the light of their cell phones, so I don’t think we had it the worst.

So we finished critiquing Mary in the dark and did all of Shane’s. Someone at another table brought us an oil/candle/lamp thing that did nothing to illuminate pages (we probably would have set the whole place on fire if we tried to read our notes by open flame). It was a nice gesture though. I’m sure they were amused by our discussions of gutted antelope, witch burnings, and wife battering.

So, I hit this snag with a novel that I’m working on–namely ‘Critique Induced Block’. Apparently I don’t have a good reaction to a work-in-progress being critiqued while, well, in progress. I start second guessing what I do. And the reason I was doing it.

In order to buy myself some time and get my WIP finished, I have polished up my very first novel. Yep. That one. The one that should be locked in a drawer according to a good many writer’s books.

I put it aside years ago. According to my Word program, I haven’t touched the thing in five years…almost exactly. My son was two. I remember that I started writing this first book because my whole idea was to have a writing career where I could stay home with him and write novels. This would be an instant bestseller and I’d be set. I finished this 600+ page whopper in two years, because I started right before Owen was born.

When I was finished I looked at all of those 600 pages and just couldn’t bring myself to revise. It was too big. Too much. I went back to school, wrote a bunch of short stories, wrote Following Julia Roberts (a much shorter novel–designed specifically so that I could revise it) and basically chalked this first guy up to experience.

But now, having started to polish it, I’ve discovered I’m not scared of it anymore and am more than a little curious to see what would happen to it once readers tell me how to fix it. I know some of the major flaws already: it’s way too long, there’s definite deus ex machina at work throughout, I have a ton and a half of characters…and apparently I thought ‘descriptive’ meant ‘repeat until your readers get bruises on their heads from all the beatings’.

Here’s my dilemma: I’m worried that I may be ‘cheating’ on the CWC submission idea–where you’ve got to work on new stuff. But I am working on new stuff. I’m just not submitting it. I want to be done with it (or close to) before I send in the new stuff.

The flip side is that I feel that part of the CWC idea is to work on making ‘publishable works’–and the group is around to help me with that. And, after looking through what I’ve got, I think that what I thought was drawer-worthy might could be fixed.

And yet another part of me wants to feel that I gave all my writing a fair shot.

But you want to know the biggest reason why I think that I should go ahead and give this First Novel a run through a critique group?

Because I remembered, as I read it again, that I had a lot of fun just writing it–deus ex machina and all.

Filing cabinets full of stuff

There are things that I don’t handle well:
1. Rejection
2. Criticism
3. Work-related anxieties

Turns out the death of a writer friend tops the not-handling-well list of all time. I have had horrible dreams since he left. Dreams of other friends-who-are-writers dying. I’ve waited to post about the death of Fred, a dedicated science fiction writer and friend, because I haven’t known what to say other than “That fucking sucks and is really, really unfair”–which isn’t very useful for anything.

But then Deb said something about not looking at it by what he did not accomplish, but we should look at it like Fred was writing right up until the end. Then I remembered Fred’s sister saying something about ‘filing cabinets full of stuff’.

Filing Cabinets Full of Stuff.

That’s my new plan.

I’m pretty computer-friendly, so I’m guessing that my filing cabinets will be more along the lines of Jump Drives Full of Stuff. Which is less impressive in the taking-up-mass department, but still fun and productive nonetheless.

Deadlines and the Drink of Your Choice

John Kenneth Galbraith: “Any writer who wants to do his best against a deadline should stick to Coca-Cola. If he doesn’t have a deadline, he can risk Seven-Up.”

I just got back from a coffeehouse filled with writers. I now wonder at the melding of caffeine and writing.

In college I had a great friend who would slam Mountain Dews to finish three papers in one night. And he was successful at those papers and now attends an MFA program in Oregon, where I can only imagine what his wife goes through to get him to stay still at two o’clock in the morning.

In the quote above, Mr. Galbraith touts the importance of caffeine in relation to a deadline. Apparently soda, now the metabolic-disorder-king-of-evilness, was the poison of choice at that particular time (1970ish times).

Today we have moved on into the Country of Starbucks. Where espresso reigns and there is plenty of syrup for those who, to paraphrase Deb, do not like the taste of coffee with their coffee. Lattes, mochas, frappacinos. All those faux Italian words that will eventually confuse European-traveling Americans.

Why is it that writers are drawn to it? Seriously, if you want to meet a writer just swing a dead cat around a coffee shop and you’ll hit at least two wannabes and probably a journalist–and you’ll be kicked out for one or two healthcode violations. Deb met another author at It’s a Grind just recently. At work, where there is a cafe, I see at least two or three people with laptops or notepads out–scribbling away.

Are out-of-house pages automatically in-coffehouse-pages? Does caffeinated=creative? Are jittery hands the hands of an artist?

The Children Of Men The Children Of Men by P.D. James

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
P.D. James can turn a sentence, let me tell you. She can also build a crazy-ass world, create believable characters, and set up a premise.

All in all, I though this was a great book. Not particularly heartwarming, but definitely an impressive read. The best stuff, for me, were the little touches she did to define the world. Women buying dolls because they can’t have children. The youngest, most viable generation going wild on the border lands because they can’t handle the pressures and the inevitablity of the end–and because they’ve been indulged in every whim by the dying older generations.

My only issue with it, in the end, were parts of the end. But I can’t really tell you about that. Because I could be heavily influenced by the movie version, which I saw first.

Also, keep in mind the adage: Never judge a book by its movie. Because, man, are they different. I think the only thing they have in common is the fact that the human race has become infertile and that suddenly a pregnant woman appears.

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Saving the World by Julia Alvarez

Saving the World Saving the World by Julia Alvarez

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really loved the parallels that Alvarez created in this book:


Alma (woman touched by idealistic man in today’s world)-Isabel (woman touched by idealistic man in yesterday’s world)

Richard (idealistic man today)-Francisco Balmis (idealistic man yesterday)

Basically Alma’s husband is trying to develop a vaccine for AIDS in the Dominican Republic and Isabel is in charge of a group of orphans who are carrying the small pox vaccine to the New World. This story is about the casualties that are involved when you try to save the world. Who is affected? Who can be saved? Are people worth saving when there’s war and poverty and all kinds of man-made badness?

Alvarez avoids being preachy and she doesn’t judge her characters, which I really, really appreciate. This is all about what the reader puts in and pulls out. And, like I said before, the parallels are very interesting as they develop.

My only issue was the pacing–and it was slow. Very slow. Plus there is a subplot involving Alma’s dying neighbor that I’m still a bit fuzzy on. However, none of this put me off going out and buying How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. So we’ll see what else Alvarez has got up her sleeve….

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